The results of a recent Gallup poll on a range of moral issues do a pretty good job of showing how dramatically America has changed in a rather short period of time. Many behaviors now deemed “largely acceptable” were once considered very wrong. In fact, most of us over fifty remember an America that was very different.
Until the mid-1960s, birth control was unapproved—even illegal to sell in many jurisdictions. It was associated with prostitution.
Divorce was something that people whispered about. And until 1969 it was so difficult to get a divorce that the few who did want them were willing to go to Mexico to in order to obtain them.
As for gambling, Catholics were less adamant about it and permitted “light” forms of gambling like bingo. But among the Protestants, “gambling” was synonymous with sin. Some of the old spirituals warned gamblers of the fires of Hell: “I would not be a gambler. I’ll tell you the reason why. I’m afraid my Lord might call my name and I wouldn’t be ready to die.”
Having a baby outside of marriage was considered so shameful that girls who got pregnant were often sent away to have the baby, which was then usually put up for adoption. Frankly, the final result was often better for the infant, who was usually adopted quickly by a married couple. Catholic orders of nuns were often the ones who handled these matters, and did so discreetly and lovingly.
Sex before marriage happened, but far less frequently—and almost no one thought it was OK. In those days there were also many protections that society insisted upon to help prevent sex before marriage. For example, young people were often chaperoned on dates. Dances and other group events were commonly arranged by adults in order to encourage young people to meet, but there were prudent limits set. Parents were more vigilant and insisted that their youngsters be home at a reasonable hour. Women’s dormitories at colleges were more strictly guarded and a young man who called was expected to meet his young lady in the lobby and say farewell to her there. Young people also got married a lot sooner. Most did so right after high school or college.
Homosexual activity of any sort was not just considered shocking; it was deemed repulsive.
Abortion was illegal—an unmentionable horror. It was associated with prostitution and utter desperation. Frankly, I don’t think I ever heard the word abortion before 1970, though I admit I was only about ten at that time.
Only the death penalty and wearing fur were more acceptable in the pre-revolution days than they are today.
Behold the cultural revolution! And revolution is the only word for it. America before the revolution was NOT a perfect culture. Racism was more widespread; there were two major wars before 1950, and there was a rather decadent period in the 1920s. But overall, we were a lot clearer about the values necessary to ensure our future: marriage, sex, and children. People got married and usually stayed married. We frowned upon, limited, and punished behaviors and attitudes that destroyed our families: sex before marriage, homosexual acts, abortion, and divorce. Today most of these behaviors are not only widely tolerated, but outright celebrated.
Why has this happened and why so suddenly? The world, the flesh, and the devil.
At the level of the demonic, there surely is strong satanic influence in the “high places” of Hollywood, the music industry, Madison Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue (at both ends of the block). American culture, via movies and music, generates a steady stream of sewer-like themes that celebrate fornication, divorce, adultery, and homosexuality, and that portray abortion sympathetically.
At the level of the flesh, Americans consume filth in enormous quantities. Internet porn sites are among the most frequently visited. Most Americans are no longer shocked by foul language, pornographic themes, or nudity in movies and music. Granted, the desire to consume this material comes from weakness due to our sinful human nature, but indulging these weaknesses leads to successively darker places, to a dulling of the sense of morality, to enslavement by the senses, and ultimately to a downright craving for the filth.
At the level of the world there is the rebellion that is at its heart. The “world,” in the scriptural sense of the term, refers to that collection of interests and powers arrayed against God and His Kingdom. To build its power, the world entices in order to enslave; it offers pleasures but then sends the bill. The world works quite handily with Satan.
At the end of the day, however, we in the Church bear a lot of the responsibility. This has happened on our watch. Jesus commissioned us to be the light of the world. So why is the world in such darkness? I have little doubt that the Lord has allowed a kind of satanic incursion for His own mysterious reasons. Perhaps the Church needs to be purified. Perhaps the West needs to be plowed under, as many previous eras and empires have been. Perhaps He is preparing a great renewal. I just don’t know.
But I do know that we must work more consciously to be the light we are supposed to be. This poll is a gauge of the extent of the darkness. Usually the lights go out as a result of a power failure. But in this case it is a moral failure. It is a failure of our mission as Christians that has led us here. Start with your own life and with your own family. Work in your own parish. Start lighting candles and living in the light.